Writer: Ian B. Goldberg, Richard Naing
Cast: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Catherine Kelly
Cert: 18 (TBC)
Running time: 99mins
What’s the story: Late one night father and son coroners Tony & Austin Tilden (Cox & Hirsch) take charge of a “Jane Doe” corpse. As they investigate cause of death, shocking secrets are uncovered.
What’s the verdict: Hot off the cold heels of Swiss Army Man, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is another 2016 movie where the central character happens to be deceased. But, where Swiss Army Man was a bedfellow to Weekend at Bernie’s, The Autopsy of Jane Doe snuggles up closer to the similarly titled The Corpse of Anna Fritz (minus the kinkiness).
Troll Hunter director André Øvredal proves he can turn out a thriller on a small budget with minimal actors and keep the mystery and suspense riveting.
The plot is pleasingly simple. A mood setting crime scene has Sheriff Sheldon (McElhatton) scratching his head at the way in which seemingly normal folk have suffered violent deaths in a nondescript suburban house. Things get weirder when a beautiful, naked woman is discovered half-unearthed in the basement.
Sheldon delivers this “Jane Doe” (Kelly) to the father and son coroners, needing a cause of death that night. But, as they get to work the more they delve the stranger things become. Not least the fact Jane Doe seems to have endured a horrible death but there’s not a mark on her.
Potentially kickstarting a new horror subgenre – the “locked corpse mystery” – The Autopsy of Jane Doe works best in the first half when the intrigue and atmosphere thickens.
Working from Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing’s zero fat script, Øvredal patiently lays out the space of the morgue, from the central operating slab to the drawers containing three very post-op dead bodies. With Austin’s girlfriend Emma (Lovibond) as an audience stand-in, Tony explains why the bodies have cute little bells on their ankles (the reason is not so cute).
Øvredal also depicts the autopsy process with no-nonsense fuss. Avoid heavy meals before watching as the skin slicing, rib-cracking and organ removal is presented with saturated colour goodness courtesy of cinematographer Roman Osin (a long way from his work on 2005’s Pride and Prejudice).
The green colour of the morgue’s walls and the father and son’s overalls also adds a subtle sense of death and decay. As do unnerving close-ups of the milky-eyed, ashen, but oddly alluring Jane Doe.
To reveal any more would spoil the surprises Tony and Austin uncover across one long, stormy night. But, as secrets of the woman’s demise reveal themselves, the film keeps the father and son relationship centre stage for a surprisingly engaging thriller.
Here it is assisted by a great chemistry between Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox (replacing Martin Sheen), who bring an authentic bond to their banter and bickering.
Small-scale horror to be sure, but not one you should cold shoulder.
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